The swim itself was not as difficult as I’d anticipated.
The sky was clear and blue. The sea was calm, silky and otherworldly. I had ideal conditions for getting across.
Though getting across was not my only interest.
I wanted to feel the energy of the sea. I wanted a storm, high waves, thunder and lightning! I was also looking for a particular kind of connection with the water. I wanted to achieve a state of calm, harmony and efficiency in my stroke and breathing, but, I didn’t get that either.
The whole project was a mixture of successes and failures..
In preparation for the channel I trained in much colder and choppier conditions. A couple of weeks before I successfully completed a 9 mile swim in Dover harbour and on 2nd July I entered the BLDSA 8 mile swim in Torbay, but I got out after 4 miles. The water was 14.5 degrees . I’d been swimming with cramp and was feeling cold, but my decision to leave the water was largely due to lack of self confidence and anxiety.
The challenge I faced in the channel was to stay focussed and positive.
In the days and minutes before I entered the water at Samphire Hoe I was quite nervous. I didn’t realise how nervous until we arrived in Dover and were on the boat approaching the start. That’s when it really dawned on me what I was doing. I was beyond talking about it, beyond planning. All of a sudden it was just me and the sea, (and the escort boat and crew, and my coach. I must not forget to mention that! We were also joined by artist John Hartley who came along to document and respond to the swim).
I’d seen it so many times, videos of Channel swimmers getting greased up, getting in, swimming off. When it got to my turn, it seemed almost unreal. It was like swimming into a dream.
It took a few hours of swimming before I got over the shock. It really was a shock. “Oh my god!” I thought,”I’m actually doing it! I’m swimming the channel!!”
I imagine many channel swimmers have a similar Oh duck! moment at the start of their swims.
Swimming the Channel is not something one does on a whim. It takes years of training and preparation. There is a massive entree to get through before doing the swim and you really don’t know what you are going to get in terms of weather conditions so, after all that preparation its still very much up in the air. You really don’t know quite what you are dealing with until you get in.
The fact that this was my only chance to do the swim was a key motivating factor. I knew that if I quit I would have to wait at least another year to make another attempt. The whole project was expensive and required a considerable amount of sacrifice and commitment. A second attempt would have been out of the question.
Committing to do the swim was probably the hardest part of the project; giving my time, energy and attention to seeing it through to the end, doing whatever was necessary to achieve that end goal; which in fact turned out to be many goals.
For me it wasn’t just about swimming to France, but the process of swimming; the act of physical and mental engagement and experience of immersion, depth and exposure.
To swim fast for example, one doesn’t try to swim fast. One needs to focus on technique. Good technique increases efficiency and speed. Speed follows form. The same applies to distance. To get to France I had to focus on maintaining good technique, which is largely governed by ones physical and emotional connection with the water, ones sense of touch, time and space. (Saying that, the video documentation of my swim reveals many flaws in technique, which lead me to wonder how I managed to get across at all. )
I was fortunate to have the support of family and friends and that helped a lot.
In many ways it was a collaborative effort with my coach Tim Denyer.
Tim gave me the confidence to swim. He helped me visualise and mentally prepare for different scenarios I might encounter at sea. He was responsible for planning and managing my swim and was on the escort boat organising my feeds and monitoring my status throughout. Every time I turned my head toward the boat to breathe he was there looking back.
His reassuring presence, knowledge and experience of the channel and his positive and constructive feedback during training and the swim itself was critical to its success. I just had to trust his judgement and direction.